Boca Raton's private-prison juggernaut, the GEO Group, makes more money from Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts than any other company in America. GEO has been repeatedly sued for allegedly forcing immigrant detainees to work for food and itself has threatened to sue critics for protesting the company. Earlier this month, a fringe white-supremacist group, Identity Evropa, showed up at an ICE facility in Colorado and handed the workers there a thank-you card and gift basket.
With all of that in mind, Ron DeSantis, who's basically a sentient American-flag tank top and the Republican frontrunner in Florida's gubernatorial race, cashed two campaign checks totaling $100,000 from GEO this past Wednesday. Records for the political action committee Friends of Ron DeSantis show that, on August 15, the PAC accepted $50,000 from GEO and $50,000 from the company's CEO, George Zoley.
PAC records show GEO also handed DeSantis a $50,000 check in March 2017. Orlando Weekly published the same PAC documents.
From a business perspective, it makes sense that GEO, formerly known as Wackenhut, would flood Florida's gubernatorial race with campaign cash. The company's business model — profiting from the caging of humans — is wildly unpopular among voters and seemingly exists only thanks to Republicans and centrist Democrats who mistakenly believe the private-prison model is somehow cheaper or more efficient than state-run facilities. A recent study by the nonprofit Sentencing Project notes those claims have been hogwash for years.
GEO absolutely flooded Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign with money, some of which campaign watchdog groups claim was illegal. The firm even held its 2017 annual meeting at the Trump National Doral Miami resort. In return, the Trump administration reversed Barack Obama's 2016 decision to quit using private-prison contractors at the federal level. The Brennan Center for Justice wrote in January that Trump's first year in office had "been the private-prison industry's best."
GEO also dumped a ton of cash into Florida Gov. Rick Scott's 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, in a move that campaign watchdogs also say violates anti-corruption rules preventing federal contractors from donating to federal campaigns. C'est la vie.
So it makes sense GEO would also pump money into the race for the most powerful single position in Florida. On the Democratic side, every major candidate has come out against the private-prison industry, and a Democratic governorship could make for awful business for GEO.
For those skeptical about the perniciousness of the company's business model, GEO's latest Securities and Exchange Commission filings say outright the firm's business model is based on a growing the number of jail beds in America and putting more prisoners behind bars. GEO also operates a facility in North Carolina that stands on the site of a former slave plantation. Immigrants at one GEO ICE facility in Texas recently went on a hunger strike over conditions.
DeSantis, meanwhile, is basically an Apache military helicopter shoved into an expensive suit. He's leading the GOP race thanks to three factors: his endorsement from Trump, his near-constant presence on Fox News, and the fact that his competitor Adam Putnam is just as much of an immigrant-hating psycho but looks like a nerd and keeps committing unforced campaign errors. DeSantis, as mini-Trump, naturally has no qualms about the private-prison industry.
In the meantime, GEO sent a cease-and-desist letter to Dream Defenders, an activist group fighting to dismantle the nation's demonstrably racist criminal justice system. GEO claimed Dream Defenders' ostensibly true complaints about it were "libelous" — but the American Civil Liberties Union says the company's complaints do not pass "the laugh test."
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